PROVO – One interesting subplot to BYU’s sensational start to the college football season involves the philosophy of scheduling.
Namely, what’s best for the program in terms of finding 12 opponents to play each year? For at least this season, anyway, the answer has become clear.
Pack light and let the good times roll. The recipe is something the Cougars might want to consider going forward.
Soon after the coronavirus began dismantling BYU’s original schedule this season athletic director Tom Holmoe scrambled to replace the six teams whose respective conferences decided to scrap non-conference games until next year. Mere weeks before the season was planned to start, Holmoe’s philosophy changed dramatically.
Instead of loading up on Power 5 opponents over the first several weeks of the season, as is BYU’s custom since going independent 10 years ago, Holmoe overlooked the quality of competition in lieu of simply finding willing partners. Metaphorically overnight, BYU replaced Utah, Arizona State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Stanford with much lower-profile programs in Navy, Troy, Louisiana Tech, UT-San Antonio and Texas State.
Drawing the straight line, BYU is 5-0 with 1-5 Texas State up next at LaVell Edwards Stadium this Saturday. The heavily favored Cougars should win easily and, in the process, improve upon their No. 12 nationally ranking.
With quarterback Zach Wilson leading the way, and drawing plenty of Heisman Trophy consideration, BYU has not enjoyed as much national exposure since finishing 11-2 in 2009. At the midway point, only Boise State and San Diego State appear to pose any serious threat to derailing BYU’s perfect season.
Every year since leaving the Mountain West, at this point the season the suspense was long gone. Usually saddled with multiple losses by mid-October, the only drama left was the Cougars becoming eligible to play in some previously negotiated lower-level bowl game.
Not this year. Happy days are here again in happy valley.
Obviously, it’s impossible to know BYU’s record in the previously scheduled September road games against Utah, Arizona State and Minnesota and at home vs. Michigan State. Accounting for its current nine-game losing streak against the Utes, BYU likely would not be on the verge of cracking the top 10, acknowledging the Pac-12 and Big 10’s delayed starts to the season may have helped inflate the national ranking.
But this much is true: As evidenced by a 17-26 record against Power 5 opponents since 2011, BYU is a below-average program versus better competition. This season, the Cougars have outscored the five Group of 5 opponents 218-70.
So why not dumb down the competition and pile up the wins? Therein lies the dilemma.
It all sounds good, creaming inferior teams, but BYU built its reputation on slaying the big boys. The upcoming home games against Texas State and Western Kentucky don’t do anything for anybody.
Holmoe knows it full well, as he articulated during a BYU Education Week question-and-answer session in August 2019. As reported by Jeff Call of the Deseret News, Holmoe said the following:
“If I wanted to, I could schedule 10 wins a year. It’s easy. We’re independent. But you’re going to be going to see the teams we beat and you’re not going to like it. Do you want that? I don’t think so. But some people say, ‘Get us 10 wins.’ I could care less about 10 wins, unless it’s against 10 quality opponents.”
Unfortunately, COVID’s arrival couldn’t have had worse timing for BYU. After slogging through consecutive 7-6 seasons, coach Kalani Sitake has the best team in his five years.
Wilson’s brilliance, which has led to rave reviews, epitomizes this season. Like many of his current teammates, the junior was inconsistent the last two years but now has the experience and talent to dominate this season.
Although impossible to prove, BYU could have fared well against its original schedule. If Wilson bypasses the NFL this spring, maybe we can get a true barometer on the program next season when the schedule includes games against seven P5 teams along with the traditional G5 powers in South Florida, Utah State and Boise State.